Learning to Garden in a New Planting Zone
Changing Gardening Zones is Difficult Even for Seasoned Gardeners
If you’ve ever had to change gardening zones, then you know what it’s like to unlearn years of gardening techniques and adapt to your new planting zone. Changing gardening zones is difficult for seasoned gardeners.
We’ve recently made a life-changing move. We’ve moved from deep South, where I had lived all my life, to the wilderness of northern Idaho. The physical move was a dramatic change in climate, environment and living circumstances. It was also a major change of planting zone.
All my life I have gardened in US Growing Zone 8. Now I find myself in US Growing Zone 6 bordering on Zone 5. That may not seem like much to you, but it means going from a zone where I could garden to different degrees almost year-round to a 90- to 100-day growing season.
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I’ll share a funny story with you about learning to garden in a new planting zone. I know a couple who moved to the mountainous areas of upstate Washington more than 30 years ago. When they first moved to the area from the East Coast, they went to their local county extension office to ask about gardening in their new planting zone. The agent on duty laughed and told them nothing would grow up there except maybe 45-day radishes.
Because they were homesteading, this was an unacceptable answer. So they set about learning to garden in a new planting zone. They scoured their seed catalogs for plants that were hearty for their growing zone and for the growing zone just below them. They ordered their seeds and plants accordingly.
They built raised beds and a greenhouse. Over the years of trial and error, they learned what worked in their planting zone. Soon they were providing all of their own produce. They preserve and store in the root cellar over a ton of food from their garden.
The lesson is to never accept defeat. When asked for his advice for learning to garden in a new planting zone, this is what he shared: “Your own negative thoughts saying it can’t be done are your worst enemy. If you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way to get it done.”
So What’s the Gardener to do When Changing Gardening Zones?
No matter what planting zone you’re in, there are basic gardening practices that apply. A gardener still has to decide on plot location and size and what plants will go in your garden. I still have to watch the pattern of the sun to decide what location will give the garden the best sun exposure. No matter where you are, you have to know your soil and normal precipitation levels.
As my grandfather taught me, “The basics are the same for everyone, but we all have our own way of gardening.” I have to remember a piece of advice I once gave in article: Don’t be afraid to try and fail, learn and implement the lessons in your next garden.
When you move to a new planting zone, one of the first things you’ll need to find out is your local frost dates. You can use the almanac, but you have to keep in mind these dates are approximate. Learning your local weather patterns will take time, but it’s part of being a gardener.
Most of the top seed companies offer information in their catalogs on the hardiness and dates to maturity for all their seeds. It’s important to find a seed company you trust. It may mean making some mistakes, but when you find a company you can feel confident in doing business with you’ll be glad you took the time to do it. You may want to order early so you can be sure the seeds you want are available.
Another great resource for the gardener is the local farm supply. There are friendly, knowledgeable people there who are happy to answer your questions. Many of the employees are gardeners themselves. They can help answer the questions you have about your new planting zone.
The thing I recommend most when learning to garden in a new planting zone is to make contact with a local old-timer. Someone who has been gardening in your new zone for years will have invaluable experience and knowledge. Most old-timers welcome someone with a desire to learn and happily share their wisdom.
I have been a subscriber to Countryside and Small Stock Journal for almost 20 years. I’ve found them to be a vault of invaluable information, resources and help. Their articles are written by people who live in all kinds of climates and conditions. If you’re not a subscriber, I recommend you become one.
I’m glad to know deep mulch gardening is a universal method of gardening. Before the tiller was invented in the early 1900s, deep mulch gardening was standard practice for gardeners. Using deep mulch in your garden accomplishes several things.
Mulch enhances your soil by changing its composition and inviting life for many creatures from worms to microorganisms. A thick layer of mulch helps conserve water and maintain your soil’s moisture level which is important no matter which planting zone you’re in. One of its most valuable assets is that it chokes out most weeds. A lesson I learned; this does not include morning glories!
My first year with deep mulching, I thought I could put a thick layer on to smother the weeds without pulling them from the area first. Wrong! I discovered it’s best to weed the area before you mulch.
While it’s not necessary to clear the area of all weeds and tall grass, it does save a little work in the long run. So take it from me and spend a few extra minutes preparing the area for mulch. I won’t say I’ve learned this lesson completely as I am still known to skip this step.
Most gardening experts say a layer 2-3 inches thick of mulch is sufficient. My experience over the last several years of using this method to garden has brought me to agree with Ruth Stout. She believes more is better, at least when it comes to mulch. Our minimum layer of mulch is 3 inches, but we usually put down 6 to 8 inches. Every year, we reapply mulch to any area that has settled or decomposed to the point it is less than this.
It’s important to know what you’re mulching options are in your new planting zone. The pH of your soil will be a deciding factor in the option you should choose. Remember pine straw will make soil more acidic. So if your soil’s pH level is already greater than 7.0, you don’t want to use pine straw.
Your best mulching options for your garden are the following.
Pine straw (Pine needles to anyone north of the Mason-Dixon Line.)
Synthetic materials like black plastic
Newspaper and cardboard
Straw (different from hay)
We do not use newspaper or cardboard in our garden. We use organic, non-GMO gardening practices. The ink and other chemicals used in making newspaper and cardboard are not something we desire in our garden. As in all aspects of gardening and life, you’ll need to make the best decision you can based on your goals for your garden and family.
Remember to check with your local Cooperative Extension Office. They have free brochures and pamphlets on gardening in your new planting zone. They even have plant specific information on plants which will grow in your area.
Do you have a tip or helpful insight on learning to garden in a new planting zone? Be sure do share your knowledge with us in the comments below.
Safe and Happy Journey,
Rhonda and The Pack